Korea: Migrant women call for ‘Equal pay for equal work’

Of note:

Hundreds of female migrant workers employed at government-run facilities are suffering discrimination and unfair treatment, according to a recent survey by Hope Center with Migrant Workers, a civic group based in Seoul.

The survey results were revealed on Wednesday at a discussion session held by the Women Migrants Human Rights Center of Korea ahead of International Migrants Day which falls on Dec. 18.

About 80 percent of the 403 respondents working as interpreters, counselors and bilingual tutors stated that they have experienced discrimination such as unequal payment, limited promotion opportunities and unrecognized work experience.

“I’ve been working as an interpreter at a multicultural family support center for 13 years, during which I have never received holiday bonuses or extra pay for meal costs that are obviously provided to my Korean coworkers,” a marriage migrant was quoted as saying by the civic group. She requested anonymity.

“I don’t understand why I am paid less than my colleagues although we are given similar tasks. It’s hard to imagine that a state-run facility aimed at improving multicultural awareness openly discriminates employees by their nationality,” said another migrant woman with five years of work experience at the support center.

According to the data provided by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family in October, bilingual tutors at public schools earn around 26.3 million won ($24,100) yearly, and interpreters working at multicultural support centers earn an average of 25.6 million won ― roughly 66 percent of the average annual salary of employees at the centers, which stood at 34.2 million won.

The civic group pointed out that the lack of details on wage guidelines has widened the payment gap.

The wage guidelines set by the ministry only state that interpreters and counselors should be paid “over the minimum wages,” whereas the specific manuals for Korean employees guarantee a yearly pay raise and chances for promotion based on their consecutive years of employment.

The survey also found that 91 percent of the migrant women experienced weak job security as their employment is based on temporary contracts of 10 months or one year. Also, 67 percent of the women have experienced workplace bullying such as verbal abuse and insults towards their home country.

“These issues, which have not been properly addressed for years, have turned into long-term systemic discrimination. Even the latest support measures from the gender ministry failed to reflect the realities in the workplace,” Wang Ji-yeon, head of the Migrant Women Association in Korea, told The Korea Times.

“What we need is improved job quality, not increased quantities of vacancies,” she said, regarding the ministry’s recent announcement to increase the number of interpreters in multicultural family support centers to 312 next year from the current 282.

She demanded an overhaul on the employment system; hiring qualified migrant women to full-time positions through proper recruitment procedures and providing education programs for their career development, as well as standardized wage guidelines.

“The current multicultural policies are mainly centered on family lives of migrant women, lacking support for their social activities. The government should recognize their capabilities and contributions to the country, and come up with better measures for them to be accepted as members of our society,” said Hwang Jeong-mi, a researcher at the Institute for Gender Research at Seoul National University.

Source: Migrant women call for ‘Equal pay for equal work’

Korea: Immigration not the only solution to demographic change

Interesting take, reflecting under-employment of women in Korea:

From an agrarian economy in the 1960s to now one of the strongest economic forces in Asia, Korea has evidently achieved tremendous economic growth, which not only comes with fiscal and welfare improvements but also demographic changes. The United Nations predicted that Korea’s population will peak in 2024 and decrease from then on and a 2000 UN Population Division report suggests immigration as a solution to this issue.

Yet, the rate at which Korea’s population is decreasing would require a mass immigration so large that it becomes an ineffective solution. Therefore, it has to be done at a smaller scale and coupled with other solutions that rely on Korea’s existing population.

The demographic change looming over this country ― and others ― is called demographic transition, which is the decrease in fertility and infant death rate due to improved welfare and technological development. It occurs in developed countries and results in a declining and aging population. The latter is the change in age structure to one with a greater proportion of older age groups, whereas the former is the change in the total overall population.

Immigration intended to offset the decline in the population size is called replacement migration, yet it can also address the declining working-age population. Based on the UN report, Korea has to aim for an annual net immigration of 800,000 between 2035 and 2050 to maintain the ratio of a working-age individual to retiree at 3.0. To bring in that number of people annually is close to impossible considering Korea’s past trends: 156,000 in 2018, and 32,000 in 2019.

To actualize our goal of sustainable economic growth, our solution itself should be sustainable. Therefore a more direct immigration policy is suggested. An example is Japan’s 2019 immigration policy that created two new visa status types for foreigners working in sectors experiencing labor shortages. With this solution, the country with the highest proportion of people over 65 years old was able to target specific industries that require manpower.

The proposed solution above greatly reduced the UN’s recommended annual net immigration, which means we have to look within the country and utilize existing human capital ― Korean women.

Despite having the highest tertiary education rates out of 36 OECD countries for women aged 25 to 34, Korea ranked 30th in women’s employment. An Ewha Law School professor suggests in a CNN interview that such contradicting statistics are proof that discriminatory hiring is still prevalent despite anti-discriminatory laws.

The Korean judicial system needs to address this issue with stricter consequences. The initiative to change should also come from organizations, and at all levels of management. Every individual is responsible to correct old prejudices and biases that promote sexism.

Yet, encouraging female employment means more than just hiring more women. It also means hiring them for leadership positions, and jobs that are historically perceived to be more appropriate for men ― referring to labor-intensive work.

Other potential solutions are empowering the elderly and extending the work-life of workers. It’s important to mention that this solution is not simply done by increasing the retirement age. Instead, it’s done by carrying out health-related initiatives and promoting lifelong learning.

Firstly, lifelong learning. Currently, Korea already has the Lifelong Education Act. Under this statute, the Korean government can plan programs purposed for cultivating human capital potential.

One way to do that is by providing opportunities for people to learn emerging skills, similar to what the Singapore University of Social Sciences is already doing. They’re offering credits for courses in emerging skills to their alumni. This is a potential solution because technological innovations also mean a workforce that needs to be trained in utilizing said technology. This resource should also be available to people of all ages and employment status.

Secondly, concerning health, investing in preventive countermeasures is impactful. Educating the public on ways to take care of their health will be cheaper compared to subsidizing healthcare costs due to ailments.

One supporting case is the company Johnson & Johnson (J&J) that strategically planned wellness programs for their employee’s social, mental, and physical health. Their efforts resulted in $250 million in healthcare savings. For every dollar J&J spent on wellness programs, they received a return of $2.71 between 2002 and 2008. Harvard Business Review even suggests that every dollar invested in health-risk prevention saves $6 in healthcare costs.

Korea’s working population has been decreasing due to population aging and decline. Replacement immigration has been suggested as a solution to this issue.

Yet the answer to whether or not Korea should embrace more immigration to ensure sustainable growth is not a simple yes or no. Replacement migration is one solution to this, but it shouldn’t be the only one. An issue as complex as this one needs more than just one big solution. Like a pride of lions hunting their prey, so should we address this issue, with several solutions.

Maria Natasha Lintang is a student at the State University of New York, Korea.

Source: Immigration not the only solution to demographic change

Pandemic risks companies’ diversity efforts, CPPIB CEO Mark Machin says

Of note:

The pandemic is threatening the pipeline of emerging female leaders and risks thwarting the progress Corporate Canada has made in diversity and inclusion efforts, the head of the country’s largest pension fund is warning.

The pace of change, particularly in diversifying executive teams, was already slow, said Mark Machin, president and chief executive officer of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, in an exclusive interview with The Globe and Mail. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, “you see some particularly alarming trends. … It could leave a permanent scarring and a setback for a lot of the progress that’s been made in the past,” he said.

The pandemic pushed women’s participation in the labour force down to a three-decade low, he noted; though there’s been a partial recovery in recent months, he cited recent surveys showing women are experiencing severe stress and burnout during the pandemic, with many considering quitting or reducing hours.

“It is fragile,” he said of the current situation, ahead of a gender diversity white paper that CPPIB will publish on Monday.

Female directors now account for 30 per cent of the board seats at TSX 60 index-listed companies – and just 15 per cent of the C-suite for the same group of companies, it noted.

To address that dearth, companies should set measurable targets for diversity on both boards and executive positions, Mr. Machin said. “I am a huge believer in targets. As business people, once we know what the target is, then we’ll solve for it.”

Few companies in Canada, however, have publicly stated targets: 29 per cent of companies say they have targets for women on boards, while just 7 per cent have targets for female executive officers, according to a report last month by Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP.

With so few companies setting diversity targets, some say the federal government may have to step in. Last week, Senator Howard Wetston, the former chair of the Ontario Securities Commission, said Ottawa may have to require corporate boards to set targets if the provinces fail to do so. “We haven’t gone far enough and we need to do better,” he said.

Boosting diversity in leadership is also crucial to Canada’s economic recovery, Mr. Machin said, citing studies showing that businesses with diverse work forces came through the previous recession in better shape.

As long-term investors, “it’s something that matters for us,” he said. “If you have companies that have diverse senior managements and diverse boards, they’re more likely to produce better risk-adjusted returns, because they make better decisions over time. It’s not just a belief – we’ve done that analysis multiple different ways.”

CPPIB, which has a $434-billion portfolio, has stepped up efforts to improve board diversity. In 2017, it started voting against the election of the nominating committee chair if the board had zero female directors. Last year, it voted against 13 Canadian public companies with no women on the board, and another 26 companies with only one female director.

This year, it voted against directors at 10 public companies (nine of which on the S&P/TSX Composite Index had only one woman on the board; the other, not listed on the benchmark index, was a company with none). Globally, it voted against 323 companies for failing to have any women on their boards.

“Watch this space,” Mr. Machin said, when asked if the fund is going to further ramp up pressure in the coming year.

The white paper issued several recommendations to accelerate the participation of women at all corporate levels, among them, giving workers more control over their schedules and removing bias by, for example, running job descriptions through software programs to eliminate terms that may appeal more to men.

It also urged more support for child care. Furloughs and reduced hours “may turn into permanent departures if parents who lack child care are forced to put their professional ambitions on hold,” it cautioned. Businesses can address this by creating more on-site daycares, helping employees source child care and accommodating workers who can’t return to the office because their children remain at home, the report said.

The CPPIB is not the only institution urging a greater priority on child care. Bank of Nova Scotia CEO Brian Porter called on the federal government in September to “significantly” enhance supports for parents with kids in daycare, to enable more women to enter the work force. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce also recently called for child-care reforms to improve affordability and accessibility, saying the COVID-19 crisis is having a “disproportionate” economic impact on women.

In an accompanying opinion piece submitted to The Globe, Mr. Machin noted the looming challenges in the coming months, with the economy projected to shrink by 6 per cent. “We expect a recession more than twice as deep as the one following the global financial crisis in 2008,” he said. “Let’s not hobble ourselves by denying our companies the talents and wisdom of half the population.”

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/article-cppib-ceo-mark-machin-says-canada-needs-to-accelerate-the/

The startling impact of COVID-19 on immigrant women in the workforce

Good detailed analysis of disparities:

While the mantra for the COVID-19 crisis has been “let’s build back better,” it will be impossible to do so without acknowledging that this pandemic has hit demographic groups unequally. Immigrant women faced many challenges in the workforce before COVID, but this pandemic has had a way of further exacerbating existing social and economic inequities. To ensure we come out of this crisis with a more resilient economy and better institutions, it is essential that we understand the differentiated impact of the pandemic on our diverse communities and bring forth policy ingenuity to make sure workers and their families are not left behind.

The impact of the pandemic on the labour market has been profound, particularly for women. The overall gender differences in the impact of COVID-19 are partly due to school and daycare shutdowns and the crisis in our long-term care centres. Gendered norms still designate women as the ones to step up and tend to our homefront, which has compounded the daily care responsibilities of many women during the pandemic. But the closure of economic activity has also directly induced larger drops in the employment of immigrant women.

Undoubtedly, the pandemic has had devastating effects on new entrants to the labour market, young adults and recently arrived immigrants. Yet among workers with more secure jobs – those aged 25 to 54 and immigrants arriving more than 10 years ago – the differentiated impact on immigrant women is startling. Employment rates for these immigrant women dropped by 12.2 percentage points between May 2019 and May 2020, according to our calculations using Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey. This compared to drops of 7 percentage points for Canadian-born men and women and of 8 points for immigrant men.

Employment rates offer one view of the labour market. A falling number indicates that workers have quit or lost their jobs. Unemployment rates, on the other hand, measure the fraction of individuals who do not currently have jobs but are actively looking for work.

In the year between May 2019 and May 2020, the unemployment rate of these immigrant women dramatically increased, by around 7 percentage points. During that time, the unemployment rate of Canadian-born men and women and of immigrant men rose significantly less, approximately by 4.5 points. It is worth noting that increases in unemployment rates were even higher among recent immigrant women (9.6-point increase) but not recent immigrant men (4.3-point increase). Even more troubling is the fact that immigrant women with high levels of education were particularly disadvantaged. University-educated immigrant women experienced the largest unemployment rates, 12.6 percent in May 2020, 7.3 percentage points higher than in May 2019. In contrast, university-educated Canadian-born women experienced unemployment rates of 5 percent, only 2.7 percentage points higher than last year.

We know that workers in the service sector were more negatively impacted than in other industries. Clearly, we are travelling less, eating out less, and we shifted our purchases to online shopping instead of visiting bricks and mortar retailers. However, even within the service sector, shutdowns affected immigrant women workers differently.

To illustrate, the bars in Figure 1 show the year’s growth in unemployment (May 2019 to May 2020) across service industries for immigrant women and Canadian-born women. Unemployment rates are most pronounced in retail trade and information, culture and recreation sectors, and are quite significant in finance and insurance. In the retail sector, unemployment rates of immigrant women increased by 9 percentage points, whereas that of Canadian-born women rose only by 2.3 percentage points. To get a rough sense of the severity of the shutdown across industries, the blue dots in Figure 1 show the increase in the number of women from these sectors who report that they are unemployed. The hospitality and retail trade industries have seen the largest of such increases with 142,000 and 132,000 more women being unemployed, respectively, this year over last.

As well as realizing the differential impact of the pandemic, it is important to understand the differences in the recovery process so far. Even if preliminary, the most recent Labour Force Survey data indicates that immigrant women are still further below pre-pandemic employment levels than men and other Canadian women.

Figure 2 shows the difference in employment rates between August and February 2020 for different groups. Larger bars indicate that employment rates are still far from those seen in February, before the pandemic, with immigrant women showing the largest differentials.

The differentiated labour market impact of the pandemic on immigrant women compared to other groups, including the differences within sectors, is more likely to be related to the precariousness of their work. They tend to work in hourly jobs rather than salaried jobs and have weaker protections in their labour contracts. Many immigrant women are underemployed, working in low-skill, part-time, and high-risk occupations. This has been decades in the making.

It is particularly worrisome that education does so little to mitigate the adverse effect of the pandemic for immigrant women.

Among the longstanding challenges immigrant women face in the workforce, the lack of recognition of their foreign credentials, their lack of Canadian work experience, and their limited access to social capital and professional networks are some of the most important. Since many immigrant women are also racialized, these constraints feed into systemic biases in hiring and advancement that affect immigrant women’s careers. It is particularly worrisome that education does so little to mitigate the adverse effect of the pandemic for immigrant women. In the retail and accommodation service sector, for instance, settled immigrant women are more than twice as likely to hold bachelor and postgraduate degrees than Canadian-born workers in the sector, but during this crisis their higher levels of education did not insulate them from being more likely to lose their jobs. These trends in the recovery are worrying and require policy action to course-correct.

As much of the Canadian federal government funding to businesses and workers is winding down, we need to ask what other policy instruments can help us get out of our economic predicament, particularly with increased recognition that some of the economic activity, and the jobs associated with it, will never return. So where do we go from here?

Undoubtedly, business trends point to an acceleration of the digital economy, increased automation of tasks, rise of artificial intelligence, reshoring production in response to supply chain disruptions and increased reliance on gig workers. These plausible trends will challenge policy-makers in charting an economic recovery path and finding the right policy instruments to ensure equality of opportunities for all workers. Looking to emerging economic sectors might be part of the answer. The green economy remains under invested in and society’s normative turn in favour of climate action and sustainability means that green jobs will be needed.

The time is ripe, then, to invest in workers to take advantage of the new economy. The opportunity to direct these investments in ways that address the diversity of our communities should not be passed over. Government should increase support for projects of social value – shovel-worthy over shovel-ready projects – that make use of diversity talent and promote fairer access to employment for immigrant women and those who are racialized, whose talents are currently underutilized. Further, investment in upskilling and retraining displaced workers – those hardest hit by the pandemic – will be needed across the country. Given the large portion of immigrant and racialized women who fall into this unemployed group, training needs to be designed, tailored, and delivered to improve their employment outcome.

Canada’s social and economic well-being cannot afford to let marginalized groups repeatedly fall through the cracks. We need to find innovate ways for immigrant women, particularly those who are racialized and newcomers, to not be left behind in the post-COVID economic recovery. Otherwise, building back better will be for some and not for all.

Source: The startling impact of COVID-19 on immigrant women in the workforce

Women in Egypt thronging to social media to reveal sexual assaults, hold abusers to account

Of note:

In Cairo, secrets long suppressed have been rising to the surface — and with them hopes the country may be experiencing a feminist movement capable of challenging the culture of impunity that has long accompanied gender-based violence in Egypt.

Online testimonials over the summer by hundreds of women on social media accounts offering anonymity have led authorities to open investigations into two alleged rape cases involving young men from wealthy and influential families.

“Egypt is on fire,” said Mozn Hassan, head of the women’s rights organization Nazra for Feminist Studies. “On fire for more than three months talking about different incidents in different sections and layers [of society].”

Social media, she said, has offered Egyptian women a safe “public sphere” that lets them know they are not alone.

In July, that space led to the arrest of a former American University in Cairo (AUC) student named Ahmed Bassem Zaki, accused of raping a number of women and blackmailing them for sexual favours. A Cairo court has set Oct. 14 as a trial date for Zaki.

“We at first just wanted him to admit it, that he did these things,” said Sabah Khodir, an Egyptian writer and poet who was one of the first to post online warnings about Zaki when she started to hear about his alleged behaviour from friends.

It set off a tidal wave with another Instagram account called Assault Police, encouraging women to share any information they had on Zaki.

“Then girls kept coming forward from all over parts of the world,” Khodir said. “We realized we actually have a shot at finally getting a serial rapist and predator in jail in Egypt that has money and power.”

Source: Women in Egypt thronging to social media to reveal sexual assaults, hold abusers to account

The women of Islamic State are not demons and must be brought home

Not as clear cut as that and a bit naive given reports from some refugee camps (At a sprawling tent camp in Syria, ISIS women impose a brutal rule):

When three 15-year-old English girls from London’s Bethnal Green ran away to join Islamic State, it was front-page news. The British tabloid press had a field day, as did the more moderate papers. “It became a kind of national trauma I think because it was so shocking. They were good students and they were popular,” says Azadeh Moaveni, author of a new book about the women of IS.

Called Guest House for Young Widows, the book is a ripping yarn and has been named one of The New York Times’ top 100 books of 2019. It provides a fascinating insight into the complex realities at play for those drawn to the fight.

Bewildered by the contempt for the Bethnal Green girls – referred to as whores for the Caliphate and concubines for IS – she was inspired to cover the story when one columnist argued British police should stop looking for the girls. “Because these weren’t our girls.”

In her quest to find them, the London-based journalist headed to southern Turkey, where she met three Syrian women. “They were incredible to me, because I thought they were the last kind of women that could be drawn into this. I thought wow, these are ordinary young women who live approximate lives to me … they’re not unknowables.”

Moaveni interviewed many women about their experiences. Some wanted to support fellow Muslims; others dreamt of travel, freedom and adventure. Many living in the region had little choice but to join, to guarantee their safety, protect their families or ensure an income. Many were actively lured.

Men in IS (referred to as ISIS in the book) were promoted and paid to recruit women; Moaveni argues the organisation’s gender strategy was crucial to its success. “It recruited young women and it used those recruitment circles to get more and more young women who weren’t married and could come over and marry the fighters, and slightly older women, saying ‘Come and you can have a role in the Caliphate, whatever you’re good at, come and do it’.

“It tapped in to all of this female energy that was not being addressed. All of these female anxieties country to country,” she says. In Saudi Arabia and Iraq, women are not allowed any involvement in politics.

When their husbands were killed, the women were forced to marry another fighter, housed in the guesthouse of the book’s title until ‘‘matched’’.

In the west, Moaveni says, we tend to view everything through the lens of terrorism, which  “obscures what we’re really dealing with”. “It’s great to tackle English language as a pathway to assimilation, really good to look at institutional racism as it targets Muslims, but [looking] through an extremist lens is not helpful.”

The Syrian revolution and the invasion of Iraq, which gave rise to IS, reflect a broken architecture in the Middle East that will lead to generation after generation of chaos that groups like IS can exploit. She argues western countries are invested in long-term political instability in the Middle East. “They’re unstable, no one gets the upper hand, every 10 years the state implodes, you have to send all of your contractors and aid workers in to help rebuild.

Guest House for Young Widows by Azadeh Moaveni.
Guest House for Young Widows by Azadeh Moaveni.

“Exclusion from politics, country to country … was a big part of the draw for IS. All these terrible states that are dictatorial and terrible and they don’t govern well and whole swathes of people are excluded from politics and it impacts women in particular because if you’re a woman you really suffer doubly under a bad government because it’s a bad government and it’s patriarchal.

“This broken political map, at the level of the citizen – especially the woman citizen – is suffocating people.”

Many countries are trying to work out how to deal with the men and women – and their children – coming back from this kind of conflict. The challenges of rehabilitation are stark but there is a strong security argument for countries bringing back their own, she says. “At least you can watch them and have them under strict surveillance and you don’t have 1000 floating westerners moving between this unstable crescent … waiting to join the next generation of IS or whatever emerges.”

Many politicians around the world are against repatriation. “Who wants to be the government who brought back the jihadi people from Syria?”

For her, it’s the only course of action. “People need to know that these people who went have gone through some sort of justice process … Some sort of prosecution and public accounting of what happened would then make their return feel more acceptable.”

Moaveni says many of the IS marriages became protection marriages. “In the middle of a war zone you could get out of a guest house that was really horrible, you had someone who could protect you. The women started to see that, too. That’s something that we don’t recognise about IS – you couldn’t get out of IS.”

Source: The women of Islamic State are not demons and must be brought home

Federal judiciary edges closer to gender parity, but numbers of minorities drop


Hmm. Effect of change in Minister?:

The federal judiciary is edging closer to gender parity after the second consecutive year in which more women than men were appointed judges, new data show. Women now make up 43 per cent of the 905 full-time judges.

But the numbers of minorities dropped, also for the second year in a row. There were just four members of visible-minority groups chosen, and two Indigenous persons, out of 86 new judges.

In the wake of the new statistics, some members of the legal community are urging the government to do more to appoint minorities to the bench.

“I think it is time now to redefine what we mean by merit,” said Daphne Dumont, a former president of the Canadian Bar Association who practises law in Charlottetown.

“I think you can be highly meritorious for all sorts of reasons that aren’t necessarily the reasons given in the application form that you have to fill in.” For instance, Indigenous lawyers who have returned to their home communities to bring them access to justice have shown merit. The process, she and others said, typically rewards those who are perceived as leaders through volunteering, teaching and participating on boards of legal associations.

The Liberal government revised the appointment process in 2016, with a stated emphasis on diversity. For the first time, the government asked judicial applicants whether they are disabled, a member of a visible minority or an ethnic/cultural minority, LGBTQ2 or Indigenous.

Each year, the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs reports on the numbers of applicants and appointments from each of the groups. The numbers cover federally appointed courts such as the superior courts of provinces, the Federal Court of Canada and the Tax Court.

From October, 2016, to October, 2017, an equal number of men and women – 37 – were appointed to these courts, although men far outnumbered women among applicants. The following year, female applicants for the first time outnumbered males, and the numbers appointed also exceeded those of males – 46 to 33. This year, appointments were 47 women, 39 men.

By contrast, the numbers went down among the minority groups. This year (from October, 2018, to October, 2019), there were 20 appointees – 14 from ethnic/cultural groups; four visible minorities; two Indigenous; and zero categorized as LGBTQ2 or disabled. (There were 19 LGBTQ2 applicants and six disabled ones. Applicants can stay in the pool for two years.) The previous year, there were seven visible minorities, three Indigenous and 29 overall. The first year of the reports, in 2017, there were 32 – including nine visible minorities.

Rachel Rappaport, a spokeswoman for Justice Minister David Lametti, said the minister has met with legal organizations since his appointment early this year to encourage applicants from visible-minority, Indigenous, linguistic-minority and LGBTQ2 communities. The meetings were also a chance to identify barriers and work together on solutions to further expand the pool of candidates, she said.

Lori Anne Thomas, president of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, said the appointments of black and Indigenous judges have been “woefully lacking.” She said she was singling out those two groups because they are overrepresented in the criminal-justice system, and among families in the child-protection system.

“The women who are appointed are white women. It shows there have been a lot of efforts in the legal community to create fairness and equality when it comes to gender, but it’s still not there in terms of race, or Indigenous persons,” she said in an interview.

Ms. Thomas said she would like to see “more consideration” given to members of overrepresented communities – for instance, for overcoming obstacles.

“Those who are racialized won’t be given the same kind of opportunities to speak on panels, to lead cases in the same way that especially their white male counterparts would be given.”

On that point, Scott Maidment, president of the Advocates’ Society, a lawyers’ group, said change needs to come from within the legal profession, too. To become a judge, “You need opportunities for leadership within the profession.” The Advocates’ Society has revised its leadership principles to stress inclusivity, he said.

Source: 43 per cent of federal judges

Japan: Muted in country of their birth, three women try to find their voice

Interesting vignettes and symbolic of some of the challenges:

As Japan’s demographic sands shift, with its graying population, declining regional communities and doors inching slowly further open to immigrant workers, three young Tokyoite women are envisioning a new way forward.

One is Korean, one is Chinese and the other is Japanese, but they all want to make the country they call home a more progressive, inclusive and representative place.

All three look like they could be any other young professional walking the streets of Japan’s capital, but when they speak they demonstrate a thoughtfulness that makes it obvious they have different motivations to most.

“I think, even like a few decades ago, it would be impossible for us to be having discussions and dialogue about how we want the future of Japan to be,” says Amy Tiffany Loo, 23.

Loo, the Chinese member of the trio, says the difficult history of relations between her ancestral homeland and those of her friends — Korean Chung Woohi, 25, and Japanese Yuka Hamanaka, 23 — means any discussion about a collective future in Japan would have been out of the question not so long ago.

“Woohi is ‘zainichi’ Korean, my family has been through a lot of upheavals through the Sino-Japanese war, and Yuka, she is a Japanese national, so when we engage in conversation we always talk about how we can think and discuss issues in a way that encompasses all three sides of us,” said Loo.

“The way we view history, it is very different. Me, coming from a Chinese background whose grandparents fought Japanese forces, it is going to be a very sensitive issue.”

Their varying ancestral histories may bring them into contrast, and even conflict sometimes, but their current shared realities in the country of their birth also gives them plenty in common.

As foreigners in their own country, the issue of representation is one that is particularly important to Chung and Loo, and it led them to evaluate the issue of voting rights for non-Japanese nationals ahead of the recent upper house election.

“There is a tendency for others to simplify us or to force us into a corner,” said Loo, a graduate of University of California Berkeley and now a consultant at a large multinational professional services company.

“But in our case, we have lived in Japan for over 15 to 20 years…And so, for us, we feel the same things that Japanese people feel. We care about gender inequality, we care about the right of disabled people, we care about children,” she said.

But as much as they care, they, like the rest of the more than 2.73 million foreigners living in Japan, have no way to voice their opinion by casting a vote for a candidate or party that represents their best interests.

“In the season of the election many people around me they always say ‘I voted’ or ‘let’s go vote,’ but my frustration was that I was unable to join that voice,” said Chung, an artist, activist and office worker.

Without a voice and with issues of great frustration at the current Japanese leadership’s attitude toward some Korea-related issues, Chung came together with her friends to start the #VoteForMe social media campaign.

“This campaign started from my personal frustration, I guess. I felt this kind of frustration because I have no right to vote in Japan even though I was born in Japan and grew up in Japan,” said Chung.

“I wanted to make a kind of bridge between the voters and those who don’t have the right to vote, so this #VoteForMe campaign is going to be the bridge between them.”

The women hoped the social media campaign would raise awareness about Japan’s disenfranchised among those who have a vote, making them realize that their vote is both valuable and has even more significance to those without a voice.

Ha Kyung Hee, an assistant professor at Meiji University who specializes in race, ethnicity and immigration, understands the motivations of the trio.

Herself a zainichi Korean, Ha says many foreign residents feel alienated from Japanese political discourse “even though they are impacted by it.”

“Election season is a painful moment as it reminds me that we are still excluded from one of the most basic civil rights,” said Ha.

“My family has been in Japan for 90 years, my first language is Japanese, and I want to call Japan my home. And yet, I hesitate because we are not treated with equality and fairness as full members of society.”

Through the process of naturalization, Japan gives foreign-born residents a chance to take the same rights as a Japanese person. They have to have lived in the country for a prescribed amount of time, and must meet a number of other conditions, but it requires they give up any other nationality and their old passport.

But many foreign passport holders do not believe they should be required to forfeit their nationality in order to have a voice in their home country.

Cognizant that a vote for “me” does not necessarily mean that vote will represent the views to which they prescribe, the three women want to make clear they are not trying to influence anyone to vote one way or another — they just want to open a dialogue about issues of importance.

“It gives us a chance to engage in a conversation. If I say ‘vote for me’ and then (someone) asks me what are your issues and they agree with it, then it is their choice,” said Loo.

“In engaging in a conversation, (someone) might change their mind, they might go the complete opposite way, but that’s their choice…but at least now I can put my picture.”

And this was the situation for Hamanaka, who, of course, does have a vote.

She was initially conflicted about being involved as she felt it may have been viewed as inauthentic.

“I wanted to support them, I wanted to do something with them, but I didn’t know how I can,” said Hamanaka, who is from Tokyo and works alongside Loo at the professional services company.

Even more frustrating for the women is that Japanese people are increasingly taking their opportunity to vote for granted, demonstrated by the poor turnout at the upper house poll in July.

At that election, in which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner secured a healthy vote, turnout for voting for candidates standing in the electoral constituencies fell to 48.80 percent, the second-lowest on record since 44.52 percent in 1995.

In the proportional representation section, turnout was slightly lower at 48.79 percent, according to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry.

For Hamanaka, the indifference of her fellow Japanese is annoying, but understandable.

“I didn’t go vote (in the past) because I wanted to prioritize what I wanted to do at that time over going to vote, so I understand it,” she said.

“But not going to vote means they support the current system, so I want more people to think about the consequences.”

One solution to the lack of representation for foreigners would be for Japan to extend them the vote, as in some circumstances a number of other countries, including Japan’s close neighbor South Korea and a range of European nations, do.

Meiji University’s Ha says there is no reason for that not to become a reality, as with the numbers alone — foreigners make up about 2 percent of Japan’s population — the impact the foreign community could have is very limited.

“I absolutely think (foreigners being given a vote) is realistic, particularly for local elections, because we already have many examples from other countries.”

“I think it requires discussions as to whether or not foreign residents should have a right to participate in national elections, but currently there is no such discussion because in Japan political rights are thought to be strongly connected with one’s nationality.”

Similarly, Loo sees the likelihood of her getting a vote being a long way off, but says there is good reason for local governments to want to hear from their entire constituency, Japanese and non.

Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward is a perfect example of somewhere that foreigners need a voice.

The bustling, central Tokyo hub has a total of 43,065 foreign residents as of Aug. 1, according to its ward office, making up 12.3 percent of the total population — by some way the most of any municipality in Japan.

Therefore, says Loo, the local government should be a reflection of that relatively diverse demographic.

“Let’s say it is going to be 20 percent in the future, as the Japanese population shrinks, that means a kind of big chunk of people living in Shinjuku, for example, don’t have a say in how they want their community to be, how they want their living area to be.”

“So, something has to happen to change that system.”

There was a time when Japan gave serious thought to extending the vote to permanent residents.

Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan of the now-defunct centrist Democratic Party of Japan in 2010 supported an earlier Supreme Court ruling supporting the constitutionality of granting voting rights to non-Japanese nationals, but when he and then his party were ousted from power by the LDP, the push foundered.

There are examples of where permanent residents are allowed to vote in local referendums, such as in Maibara in Shiga Prefecture which became the first local municipality to allow it in 2002.

Since then, a number of other places have similarly allowed permanent residents a say in referendums on limited local matters, but no more than that.

Ha says much of the current thinking on the subject posits that there are only intangible reasons for major change being little more than a pipe dream.

“I see it as a symbolic refusal to treat foreign residents as equal partners in our society,” she said while pointing out that in many other countries, foreigners have a say.

“People in Japan really must start asking themselves what is so wrong about allowing foreign residents to vote instead of giving up on critical thinking and automatically equating voting rights with nationality.”

With universal suffrage realistically out of reach, at least for the foreseeable future, the #VoteForMe three have plans to make an impact elsewhere.

They plan to prepare a bigger and better campaign for the next Japanese poll, a general election that has to be held by October 2021, but also to expand their activities to encompass more activism.

Their next target is establishing a program to use performance art to highlight some targets of discrimination that hide in plain sight.

They want to bring attention to a range of issues of importance to them, with the treatment of Japan’s so-called burakumin population one such area of concern.

Hamanaka says that by using performance to highlight discrimination, it illuminates the reality faced by those suffering from in an accessible way: so that is the plan.

The meat-packing industry is particularly problematic, she says, because Japan’s burakumin, an outcast group traditionally rooted to the bottom of the social strata and restricted to working in jobs widely — and without any basis — considered “dirty” such as meat-processing, undertaking or as hide tanners, are a people whose plight should be more widely understood.

“In our daily lives it is very invisible, that process, but they are people who work in it and they are discriminated against in Japanese society, historically,” said Hamanaka.

“We are trying to make performance art in the place, and organizing a study tour to make the discrimination visible in a creative way.”

With impressive young women like Chung, Loo and Hamanaka trying to make their voices heard in Japan, the country is very likely moving in a positive direction.

However, the question remains whether the country’s leadership, or wider population, have any interest in listening.

Source: Muted in country of their birth, three women try to find their voice

The rise of female Sharia judges in India

Of note:

Earlier this year, Maya Rachel McManus, a British Muslim, walked down the aisle in Kolkata on her wedding day and exchanged garlands with her partner in a traditional Hindu ceremony.

Later, her marriage was solemnised by female qazis, or judges, who govern Islamic law. 

“Maybe my multicultural wedding would have been frowned upon if the qazis were men,” McManus told Al Jazeera.

“The ones my husband and I had spoken to had problems with some of my basic rights; like keeping my maiden name and my British passport after marriage.”

She insisted that women perform her wedding rites.

“This was the first time one of our qazis solemnised a marriage,” said Noorjehan Safia Niwaz, cofounder of Bhartiya Mahila Muslim Andolan (BMMA), an organisation that launched in 2007 in India advocating for secular rights.

In 2016, BMMA began training Muslim women to become qazis, a role traditionally held by men.

To McManus, and many of India’s millions of Muslims, the recent rise of female qazis means fewer compromises and a chance at more justice for women.

“What is common between all versions of Sharia or Islamic law that is followed today is that it is extremely patriarchal,” said Niwaz, who is also a qazi.

“Women continue to suffer. They become victims of nikkah halala (a practise in Islam where a woman once divorced by her husband must consummate her marriage with another man if she wants to remarry her first husband), polygamous marriages and unilateral divorces.”

There are no teachings in either the Quran or the prophetic tradition that prohibits women from being qazis. Even the wife of the Prophet Muhammad, known as Sayyida Aisha, performed and solemnised the nikah of several people.

EBRAHIM MOOSA, PROFESSOR OF ISLAMIC STUDIES AT INDIANA’S UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME

To replace what Niwas describes as a “misogynistic syllabus” designed for male qazis, BMMA drafted its own curriculum in which women study the Quran from a feminist perspective and examine the Indian constitution so they can make decisions, keeping in mind the law of the land.

“The practice of female [qazis] is novel in India, but the idea is not novel,” says Ebrahim Moosa, a professor

of Islamic studies at Indiana’s University of Notre Dame. “Muslims in North India followed the Hanafi school of law for centuries that allows women to be judges.”

According to BMMA, which is funded by private donors and charities, there are 15 female qazis spread across India including West Bengal, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, and Orissa.

“We have over 150 cases in our centre alone,” said 47-year-old Hina Siddiqui, a qazi from Bandra, a western Mumbai suburb. “Though unlike male qazis, in each case we summon both the man and the woman involved. We don’t hear just one side of the story.”

Since triple talaq, or instant divorce, led by Muslim men was criminalised in India, carrying a possible jail sentence, Siddiqui and her colleagues have seen an increase in the number of distressed women in their offices.

“The men are now scared to give triple talaq,” said 60-year-old Zubeda Khatoon, another qazi in Bandra.

“So they abuse their wives both physically and emotionally, hoping that the woman will leave them instead. Another way this works in the man’s favour is that according to Sharia law if a woman asks for a divorce, her husband owes her no liabilities. “

This is where female qazis step in and attempt to ensure that women receive their legal rights during including receiving her mehr – a sum of money given to the bride on her wedding day, alimony and the belongings she contributed to the home after marriage.

For couples who wish to be married by a female qazi, there is a rigorous process. 

Through a period of one month, the judges verify the bride and groom’s details – including their identity, economic status, marital status and even their marzi, or personal reasons for wedlock. This is to reduce the rate of fraudulent marriages.

“They [the female qazis] explained the various aspects of the nikah [wedding] procedure to me. They were extremely helpful,” said McManus. “This kind of support was not forthcoming from the male qazis I had approached earlier.”

‘No such thing as women qazis’

But not everybody agrees that female qazis can better safeguard the interests of Muslim women.

“There is no such thing as women qazis in Islam. It is just a new-age thing,” Muslim leader Syed Moinuddin Ashraf, from Sunni Jama Mosque in Mumbai, told The Hindustan Times.

Moosa, the professor in Indiana, said while some schools of Islamic thought such as Shafiʿi, Ahl-e Hadis, and Salafi, prevent women from becoming qazis, it remains religiously permissible. 

“There are no teachings in either the Quran or the prophetic tradition that prohibits women from being qazis,” he said. “Even the wife of the Prophet Muhammad, known as Sayyida Aisha, performed and solemnised the nikah of several [people].”

In the two years that Siddiqui and Khatoon have been practising as qazis in Mumbai, they have presided over only one mutually consenting divorce. 

“In that case, we were able to get the woman two lakhs ($2,874) as maintenance from her husband,” said Khatoon. “But most people still prefer to have their divorce issued on the letterhead of male qazis.”

According to Niwaz, 30 more women eager to enrol in the second batch of qazi training by BMMA.

“Maya’s wedding [McManus’s] went through without any objections,” she says. “We haven’t had any fatwas issued for the work we [female qazis] are doing. We exist. That in itself is a positive thing.”

Source: The rise of female Sharia judges in India

A New Law Finally Passed on Foreign Women’s Lebanese Citizenship

Partial progress:

It is no secret that women in Lebanon have to deal still with archaic gender-bias laws that require urgent changes, adjustments, or even the total eradication of some. Reconciling their reality with the Lebanese progressive mentality and our women’s high level of education and career success has been a painful hardship for our society.

Among these laws, the rights of Lebanese women to nationalize their children when born to foreign fathers, and the rights of foreign spouses to the nationality.

The struggles have been more relevant these past two decades, naturally, considering the ongoing evolution of our women and their awakening to what’s right and fair and what isn’t in our laws. Hence, in recent years, their efforts and endeavors have been many, even countless, to bring balance and harmony to our human society with judicial fairness and rights.

So, no wonder we get to heartily welcome now the memorandum of the Director-General for Personal Status, Mr. Elias Khoury. He demands from the Head of Departments and Registry Officers the application of Article 5 of the Lebanese Nationality Law.

The Article 5 declares, “The foreign woman married to a Lebanese shall, upon her request, become Lebanese after one year from the date of registration of the marriage in the Civil Status Office.”

Therefore, as of this month, foreign women spouses of Lebanese citizens are entitled to apply for the Lebanese citizenship at the registry offices without the signature of their husbands.

The memorandum stressed that “A new form must be adapted to fill the application for citizenship, which preserves the law of nationality from one side and is less complicated than the previous model, in both practical and administrative terms, while adhering to the same mechanism in order to ensure all information contained in the application and the right of women to obtain Nationality.”

In force as of April 1st, both the memorandum and the new form state: “Memorandum No. 35 concerning the mechanism and conditions of reception and completion of transactions of acquisition of nationality by marriage.”

These Mechanisms and conditions can be reviewed on the website of the Directorate General for Civil Status www.dgcs.gov.lb

It remains that foreign women working or residing in Lebanon cannot, by law, apply for citizenship if they are not married to a Lebanese man. That privilege is granted only by ‘male priority placed on women’ and not by their own rights.

Nonetheless, we maintain hope that this is only the beginning for more and more improvements and changes towards a more consciously evolved human society. After all, the reason of existence of any and all laws is, by principle and ethics, to serve the well-being of all citizens equally. Failure to do so, their reason to exist is no longer.

Source: A New Law Finally Passed on Foreign Women’s Lebanese Citizenship